“14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.
“19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.”
This is an extension of last week’s lesson, really. We talked about taking responsibility for those around us and not being a stumbling block to them. We focused on the idea of not being indifferent to the needs of others; it is often much easier to ignore the need and not have to get our hands dirty helping others. Thankfully, Jesus did not do that to us; He got His hands dirty to save us.
Today we will look at personal liberty. This is a big issue in the Lord’s churches as many simply live for themselves and not in the service of others. One of the hardest things to learn to do – and believe me, it is a lifelong journey – is to learn to deny yourself. We are not talking about doctrinal compromise, so let us get that out of the way very early on in our discussion today. Let us take a Biblical example and explore this.
In Acts 15 we find a discussion arises about circumcision. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is seeing souls saved, but certain men from the church in Judea come to visit him (Acts 15:1-2), and say that one cannot be saved unless you are circumcised. They are adding the law to grace, mixing works and grace for salvation. This same thing is happening in churches all over the world still. Many still want to follow the law for salvation, making Jesus’ death insufficient for salvation. In the passage here in Acts, Paul and Barnabas argue that circumcision is not necessary for salvation. This division leads to a meeting in Jerusalem with apostles and other leaders.
After much discussion, the elders of the church there and the men present came to the understanding that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, and they issued a decree to that effect, if you read from Acts 15:24-29. In the very next chapter, Paul takes a young man named Timothy on a missionary journey with him; and before he leaves, he has him circumcised (Acts 16: 1-5). Why? Paul tells of the reason in Acts 16:3, because of all of the Jews that were in the area they were going to.
Here we have one of the clearest examples of doctrine versus personal freedoms. Timothy was saved; he was not being circumcised to be saved, he was circumcised so that he would be able to minister to the Jews in the area that he and Paul were going to. His personal freedoms did not trump what was necessary for the furtherance of the Gospel. One of the hardest things to learn to do as a Christian is that of denying one’s self for the sake of others. Some things are not sinful until we make them sinful by not considering others.
- Love is the Reason
The one thing that should separate the Lord’s churches from all other entities on the earth is love for each other. In John 13:34-35, Jesus tells us that people will know we are his disciples if we have love one for another. Love requires sacrifice. When we take responsibility for younger and weaker Christians in our midst, then we must do so out of love. If not, we will become resentful when we have to give up a preference to serve a brother or sister. Here is an example: Maybe someone in your local church was recently saved and came out of an organization that mixed following the law with grace; he grew up not eating pork or shellfish, and you invite him to you home. Be mindful of him and maybe serve beef or chicken until you know he is mature enough to understand the freedoms we have in Jesus.
A lot of us would break out Acts 10 and tell the story of Peter on the rooftop and miss the point. Even Peter struggled with that change as did the church in Jerusalem; the incident we spoke of in Acts 15 happened a long time into the life of the local church in Jerusalem. They were still struggling with the Law and grace. Paul tells us that we should love our brother, to be mindful of his areas of offense, and consider him. Put our freedoms aside for the sake and service of others.
I will put one other thing in here that I have noticed of late. I see a lot of Christians drinking alcohol, even in public. I don’t want to get into a lesson on alcohol; as for me and all pastors, we are not allowed to drink alcohol according to 1 Timothy 3. But the stigma and the sad reality of the human cost that alcohol has inflicted on society should make a Christian weary of drinking. If you want to have a beer or a glass of wine at home, then enjoy your freedoms, but understand that there are alcoholics all around you, there are people struggling at home with alcohol, and it has wrecked a lot of lives.
Maybe our freedoms need to be tempered with love for each other. This can be extended to many other things like music, movies, clothing and the like. Simply put, we are not here to serve ourselves but to serve our family in the Lord and to do all it takes, yes, even to giving up our freedoms to help them grow and mature in Jesus.
- What is God calling you to give up?
As we mature, God will ask us to do things. We see this principle in the life even of a child; when they are young, we teach them to eat without getting food everywhere on the table. As they mature, we teach them to put their plates in the sink, and as they mature more, we ask them to wash the dishes, and then to wash and put away. At each turn, we put more responsibility on them, and it costs them something: time. They can’t just run away to the TV or to the Xbox. To be obedient, they have to sacrifice something.
Paul ends the section here in Chapter 14 by calling us to live by faith. You can enjoy your freedoms before God, and He will give you great happiness. But as we mature, there are things, even good things that God may call you to give up. All too often we settle for good, and God is offering us great things. We settle for happiness, and God is offering us joy. We settle for earthly treasures, and God is calling us to invest in Heavenly treasures. But it is hard to give up what we can see for what we can’t see; thus, God calls us to live by faith.
I will offer an example. In our church camp, one of the rules is that there is not to be any contact between the sexes for the week. Now over the years, we have not really enforced that rule, and if a husband and wife want to hold hands at the worship service, no one would say anything. But some have stopped coming because of that – If I can’t kiss my wife goodnight, then I am not coming. This is immaturity. You give up the opportunity to set a good example of a Godly Christian marriage – especially if you are a young couple, and the world is telling our kids to wait and wait to get married – because of a kiss goodnight. You have traded eternal benefits for temporal ones; you are not going to be married in Heaven anyway, but your faithful sacrifice will live on forever.
We live in a world that puts me first – me, me, me and me. The world of the local church is the complete opposite; we live for God first and then others. Our jobs are to serve others into the kingdom and to keep serving once they have entered the kingdom.
What stumbling blocks have you and I used to hurt our fellow Heavenly citizens? What is God calling us to sacrificially give up for and in the service of others? Who is God calling us to take responsibility for?
Barnabas took responsibility for Paul; then later Paul took responsibility for Timothy and Titus and others. I would argue that Paul would not have been the man of God he became without the sacrifice of Barnabas, yet many speak as if Paul was a self-made missionary. He was not. You don’t need to be famous here, but be famous with God for living sacrificially. Live by faith that God knows what it cost to serve others; it cost Him his Son. Jesus laid down His life for us; and sadly, some of us – and I am looking at the man in the mirror – won’t lay down anything for Him or His people. We all need a serious come to Jesus moment.
God bless you,
Dr. Sean Gooding
Pastor of Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church
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